Cutting a one minute trailer for a feature film needs to be structured, and finding the right narrative thread can be a challenge. I took the 1975 classic “Jaws” and cut my own trailer for the film. I used footage from the release print, but every cut in the trailer is mine.
I wanted to make sure the conflict in the trailer was clearly defined: Sheriff Brody has to overcome the obstinance of Amity’s mayor and tourist reliant citizens before confronting a rogue shark. Brody starts off as a fish out of water, a New York cop who is discomfited by the ocean. He’s also unwilling to assert his authority, backing down from the town’s resistance to closing the beaches despite his better judgement. Aside from the man vs. shark narrative, Brody’s internal journey of finding his courage and resolve really drives the story. The terror at the end of the story is directly proportional to the degree of empathy and emotional commitment the audience has for the main characters, primarily Brody.
Here’s the cut:
I really tried to follow the character –> objective –> opposition structure of conflict, delivered in that order to the audience. “Listen Chief, be careful will ya?” Brody laughs it off, “In this town?” Brody’s objective is to protect (implied). Then we meet the mayor “…the beaches are open, and people are having a wonderful time. Amity as you know means friendship.” The mayor’s objective is to promote. We then have a moment of confrontation between the mayor and Brody, “…you yell shark, we gotta panic on our hands…” I then cut to a moment of confrontation between swimmers (whose objective is to have a wonderful time) and an implied shark! All of the main lines of conflict in the story are clearly defined.
The next beat features the mayor surrounded by Brody and Hooper as they try talking some sense into him. I cut together a shot of a shark illustration over Hooper’s dialog of how splashing attracts sharks, then I cut to panicked swimmers splashing. The shark is a real threat in the story! The mayor’s obstinance doesn’t really play though. Just his expression of incredulity isn’t nearly enough to clarify his resistance. Even the next beat where Brody finally asserts his authority doesn’t really define the mayor as clear obstacle either, “we’re gonna hire Quint to kill the shark!” It’s how I used three moments of confrontation between them throughout the edit that I hope implies the mayor as obstacle.
The montage of dramatic closeups at the end are just reaction shots to fear of the shark we won’t get to see until be buy a ticket to the show. I end with the shark attack that opens the actual film. I know showing the shark at all was something Spielberg didn’t want. Not just because he didn’t feel his mechanical shark was very convincing on screen, but because the audience’s imagination in delaying the reveal would make it that much scarier. Terror has more to do with what we can’t see lurking in the dark, than a cheap fright. Good lesson from Spielberg for sure.